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Jewish Remembrance Week Görlitz/Zgorzelec

Last weekend (June 25 2023), the Jewish Remembrance Week Görlitz/Zgorzelec 2023 came to an end. Our member Lauren Leiderman, with her team, our cooperation and help from different parts of the Görlitz and Saxon society, set an important and significant sign. To say it right away: All events, as well as the week as a whole, were a great success and touched many people deeply. Not least the 48 descendants of Jewish former residents of Görlitz and 2 survivors of the Shoah. Especially from Australia, New Zealand, the USA, England and South America, many followed the call of the hometown of their ancestors, on the one hand to explore their own roots and on the other hand to pay tribute to those who died and were expelled.

But let's start at the beginning: The first Jews came to Görlitz almost a thousand years ago, but were twice systematically persecuted, murdered or forced to flee. After being expelled from Görlitz in 1396, Jews were not allowed to live in the city until 1847. Between 1847 and the 1930s, the Jewish community in Görlitz flourished and prospered. Then, in 1933, life for the Jews in Görlitz became dangerous. By 1940, this Jewish community no longer existed; all had either fled or were murdered by during the National Socialist regime.

The Jewish Memorial Week Görlitz/Zgorzelec pays tribute to the former living Jewish community of Görlitz and recalls the achievements of its members, their businesses, their families and their synagogue, but also the terrible persecution during the Nazi era. The descendants of this former Jewish community have come together from all over the world in Görlitz and Zgorzelec to celebrate the occasion.

The Görlitz/Zgorzelec Jewish Remembrance Week included lectures by survivors and their children, lectures by renowned historians, films, photo exhibitions and discussions, meetings with politicians, communal dinners, exchanges with citizens of Görlitz - all with the aim of carrying forward the lessons of this heritage and bringing hope and humanity to the many humanitarian crises we face today. In addition, many descendants practically explored the places where their ancestors lived and worked, exchanged family stories, (re)found places of longing or took photos for those at home to make the stories of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents visible and tangible. The Kabbalat prayer on Friday evening was led by Rabbi Esther Jonas-Maertin from Leipzig, together with many international guests, as well as the melodies that were probably frequently heard in the beautiful Görlitz synagogue until 1938.

In many encounters, there was often talk of "healing" and on the final weekend it became increasingly clear that not only the descendants but also the local society had received this healing. The wound that had been torn by the expulsion, murder and flight of an important and lively part of the Görlitz city society since 1945 at the latest - it too has received initial attention and thus the chance to slowly heal. All the more, many descendants have shown with words or through their celebrity and enthusiasm how important it is, even for those born later, to connect to their own roots and to the pain of this great amputation of commonality. Of course, many studies in the past decades have described the importance of these human connections for psychological integrity. However, it is the practice of events such as the Jewish Remembrance Week Görlitz/Zgorzelec that breathe life into these theoretical findings and make the healing effect of the encounter shine.

The year 2023 at the end of the event's title could be a small hint that the opportunity for these difficult and beneficial encounters will be given to further generations of descendants or those who did not make it this year. Our arms are wide open as human beings, as Jews, as cooperative partners for these kinds of visits from the past for the future.

A big thank you goes to Lauren Leiderman, who with tenacity, dedication and kindness brought the idea to life and brought and kept all the actors together.

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